Those Who Don’t, Teach

Wednesday, December 11, 2013 — Week of Advent 2, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 38 (morning) // 119:25-48 (evening)

Amos 8:1-14

Revelation 1:17-2:7

Matthew 23:1-12

For people whose lives are synched to the rhythms of an academic calendar, this might be a stressful time of year. Students are preparing for exams and completing research papers. Teachers are catching up on grading. Some of those teachers are asking themselves, “Why did I assign so much writing? Now I have to grade it all!”

At least Jesus would approve: These teachers are carrying burdens alongside the students they have burdened! In today’s gospel, Jesus is deeply critical of the scribes and Pharisees who claim to hold teaching authority, but who don’t shoulder the burdens that they assign to others. As Jesus says, “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.”

With these words, Jesus gives us an excellent way to test the teaching authority we should imitate. We can evaluate whether the many moralistic voices in our culture prescribe burdens for others without carrying those burdens themselves.

Some of these voices come from people who have enjoyed social, economic, educational, and racial advantages in their lives, but who expect others—even children—to surmount obstacles that they themselves never had to face. They ask people to carry the burdens of poverty without having shared that load. However, as Nicholas Kristof wrote in a recent column, “it’s callous for those born on second or third base to denounce the poor for failing to hit home runs” (“Where’s the Love?”, New York Times, 11/27/13).

Other burdensome voices create hardships for personal relationships and families. Some zealous instructors in sexual ethics speak from the safety of socially-affirmed relationships and family structures. They make rules about divorce and remarriage, about same-gender partnerships, or about a host of other issues without having to make the same sacrifices that they ask of others.

When voices around us try to instruct us, it’s worth asking: “Are you asking me or someone else to carry a burden that you have not carried yourself?” We can also ask ourselves, “Am I asking someone else to shoulder a load that I have never borne?” Ultimately, our gospel this morning asks us all to be students and children, not instructors or parents, looking only to Jesus as our teacher and God as our nurturer. Instead of piling on the burdens, they free us from what we are carrying.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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